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Wednesday, February 28, 2007
ESPNsoccernet: March 1, 12:43 PM UK
Hall of Fame election procedure needs changing

Steve Davis

Girls ruled as the National Soccer Hall of Fame announced its 2007 class in the players category.

And no one should have a problem with that. Mia Hamm was as prodigious in scoring on the field as she was publicity shy off it. She gained admittance in her first year of eligibility, and rightfully so.

Neither can the merits be debated for Julie Foudy, who likewise gained a spot in her initial year of eligibility.

But no Marco Etcheverry? Or Thomas Dooley? Even Joy Fawcett, for that matter?

The economy of the class seems ripe for questioning. That is to say, there seemed to be other deserving members among the 62 eligible names this year.

And as the years move forward, National Soccer Hall of Fame voters seem destined to face increasingly tough choices unless election mechanisms are adjusted to boost the chances that a third, or perhaps even a fourth, candidate can gain admittance each year.

This year's vote is the perfect example.

Simply put, the domestic game has grown and a greater number of worthy candidates are landing on the ballot each year. Under current election procedures, a broader field of deserving candidates reduces the chances of a third person gaining admittance.

Players are eligible in their third year after retiring from professional soccer. Here's how the voting works from there: Two players who receive the highest number of votes from selected media and past inductees are elected, provided they are named on at least 50 percent of the ballots cast. A third candidate may be elected if he or she is named on at least 80 percent of cast ballots, a percentage that seems increasingly out of reach.

Again, Hamm and Foudy were clear-cut choices. But the likelihood of a third person gaining entry is hampered because several worthwhile candidates split the remainder of the votes.

Hamm was selected on 137 of the 141 ballots cast. That represented 97.2 percent of the voting members, which was a higher approval rating than previous record holder Michelle Akers. Akers was elected by 95.8 percent of the vote in 2005.

(By the way, can somebody please go wake up the four folks who didn't vote for Hamm, or ask them to turn off their "Project Runway: Complete Third Season" DVD or whatever and start paying attention? Thank you.)

Foudy found herself on 83.7 percent of the ballots. And again, considering the Girls of Summer and their fabulous contributions to the game, no one could dredge up a good argument against their selection.

But you certainly could make compelling arguments for others. Dooley appears to be the greatest victim of this seemingly outdated process, although good cases exist for Fawcett and Etcheverry as well. El Diablo, as Etcheverry was known, rose above the clatter on the domestic pro soccer scene through the back half of the 1990s, easily the weightiest influence on D.C. United's three titles in the first four seasons.

But Etcheverry was on the ballot this year for the first time, and the Bolivian playmaker will remain eligible until 2013. His time may yet come, whereas Dooley's time is getting short. He has been close twice before, but his name will disappear from the ballot in 2010.

Dooley was a U.S. starter in two World Cups. Later, he played 83 games in Major League Soccer for Columbus and New York.

But it was the significant contributions to the national program that make Dooley so deserving, especially considering that current members such as Michael Windischmann and Fernando Clavijo were selected because of their contributions for country. Dooley's impact in the bigger picture was greater.

And Dooley certainly made contributions commensurate with those of Carin Jennings, who was selected for her national team achievement.

Dooley might not have been the marquee name on that 1994 team that stunned Colombia and willed its way -- somehow -- into the World Cup second round. John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, Tab Ramos and Tony Meola were the more recognized names. But the naturalized citizen from Germany was absolutely essential in providing experience and composure to the group. And that's not to mention all the ground he covered for Bora Milutinovic's team from his holding midfield spot.

Even Dooley couldn't hold together the pitiful flea circus that was the 1998 U.S. team camp. Still, he was a valuable starter on that World Cup side in France.

Dooley debuted for the United States in 1991 against Ireland and earned 81 caps before international retirement in 1999. He lives in Southern California now, still heavily involved in soccer and youth coaching.

So why isn't Dooley or one of the other eligible members planning a trip to Oneonta, N.Y., for the Aug. 26 ceremonies?

Etcheverry received votes on 58 percent of the ballots. Dooley found himself on 52 percent. And here's what's interesting: That percentage for Dooley is down from the past two years, when he was closer to that 80 percent level. He received votes on 59 percent of the ballots two years ago and on 63 percent of the ballots last year.

What does that mean? That it's becoming increasingly difficult for voters to make their decisions. Whom to vote in? Whom to leave out? And it will only get more perplexing from here. Etcheverry, for instance, had better get himself elected before names such as Cobi Jones, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Eddie Pope, Frankie Hejduk, Jason Kreis and others start popping up on the eligible list in coming years.

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.


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